December 05, 2023

Foliar feeding: Microbes utilized to boost yields

AUGUSTA, Ill. — In addition to planting corn and soybeans seeds, Brady Holst applies a mix of bacteria and fungi with his planter.

“We’ve been putting biologicals on with the planter for about five years,” said Holst, who farms with his dad and brother. “They are a little different than a lot of biologicals because they are live when we put them on.”

The fungi help with root uptake of nutrients, explained Holst during the Soy Around the State media tour, organized by the Illinois Soybean Association.

“The bacteria convert nutrients into what the plant is going to use,” he said.

The microbes are in a pretty stable state until the food source is added.

“Once the food source goes into it, we have about 24 hours to put it on because the microbes will start multiplying very fast,” Holst said. “They will take all the oxygen out of water so they won’t be able to breathe.”

Microbes applied to the Holst fields are specific to the region.

“Some are ones that are already here naturally, so we add to increase the numbers and others are different strains that are added for the benefits,” he said.

Adding the microbes in furrow, Holst said, benefits the worst fields the most.

“We’ve seen the biggest results in areas that are not the best farms and also in years that are very wet or dry,” he said. “When conditions are perfect, the natural microbial activity is very high, so we don’t see as much benefit.”

Holst is also experimenting with foliar feeding on his farm where he grows 1,600 acres of corn and 1,600 acres of soybeans.

“I was doing that today,” he said. “I put silica on the soybeans which helps with stress relief and we put amino acids on to help with root growth and plant stress.”

The products were applied with a drone that is equipped with an eight-gallon tank.

“We bought the drones for fungicide passes when the corn is tall, but it was convenient for the foliar passes because we were doing small strips,” said Holst, who is an at-large director for the ISA.

“I applied two gallons per acre, which is the same as what a plane puts on,” he said.

“I am spraying 32 acres per hour,” he said. “It is advertised to do 40 acres per hour. I haven’t hit that yet, but I think I will be able to once I get more use to it.”

Evaluation of different products and practices on the farm is important to Holst.

“We do soil testing and tissue tests on our plots once a week to watch closely for nutrient deficiencies in the plants,” he said “We want to see what’s in the ground and in the plant to see how the microbes are working.”

In addition, test strips are included on almost every field on the whole farm.

“Last year we did a lot of Y-drop trials with different nutrients,” Holst said. “We leave strips to make sure it’s still working every year.”

“We use Ag Leader for our maps, so all our applications and yields are recorded,” he said. “We take the data layers and use that to create maps for variable rates the following year.”

Holst also started working with Farmobile last fall.

“They collect and store all the data including machine metrics like fuel usage and even efficiencies like how many hours you’re doing work versus idling,” he said. “It breaks down the costs by machine or operation, so this fall we’re going to look at combine efficiency.”

Last year, Holst found that 28% of the time the combine was running was for transporting from field to field.

“I feel there is a lot of time that could be made up there,” he said.

The Holsts utilize three combines to harvest their crops.

“I think the amount of acres per combine needs to change to balance the costs,” the farmer said. “Because we have one combine that was new last year and another one that is 10 years old.”

Martha Blum

Martha Blum

Field Editor